NCAA Austin Regional pre-match press conference transcripts
Dec. 11, 2008
NCAA Austin Regional Pre-match press conferences
No. 3 seed TEXAS
On his senior class: Early on, I think this senior group put a lot of faith into the coaching staff and this program, and helped develop the recruiting base that we’ve had. They have really grown through their four years in terms of improvement and leadership qualities. They have just been a very good senior figurehead for this group. I think this team, more so than any other group in the past, has really taken this one match at a time. By no means are we looking ahead of UCLA, because they are a very good team. They were inches from having only four losses in the Pac-10. They’ve lost six matches in five sets, so it’s a team that has good ball control and can hurt you in many different ways with one of the best setters in the country.
On the bigger picture: We set some goals. Looking back at it, we set goals to win the Big 12 Championship and they have some other things in the locker room that they are hoping to achieve. We definitely have talked about it in the past, but we’re now talking about the process of going through this NCAA Tournament, one match at a time. There’s no discussion of the final four at this point.
On if the team is where he wants them to be: Yes. I think they have really grown as a group in terms of chemistry, commitment and their understanding of how important it is to win. But, you can only measure your last game. We’ll determine how good we are by our match tomorrow night. But from what we had from last weekend, it was probably our best serving and passing weekend. We were very efficient offensively and we did some really nice things on the defensive side. I’m excited. I’m excited for them to enjoy today’s practice, tomorrow’s match and be ready to compete. I think they wanted to play this match yesterday. It’s been a long week.
Sophomore outside hitter Juliann Faucette
On if they are playing their best volleyball right now: You never know when you’re playing your best, because you never know how good you can get. But, it definitely feels good at this point. I think it shows up in the practice gym everyday, because we have standards where we need to show up and be ready to play. It carries over to our matches and last weekend was a good test of that. Our offense was really good, but we can definitely improve defensively. I think that’s our goal for this week and tomorrow night. You never know when you’re peaking or not, but it feels good.
On if they looked past teams they were playing last year: In the past, we definitely did make a mistake by looking past the teams we were playing and looking at the bigger picture. It happens with every team, and going into this year, there was a lot of talk about taking things one match at a time like we’ve stated before. I definitely think that’s important for this year, and we’ve let our freshmen know how it felt last year. We obviously don’t want to do that again. UCLA is a great team and that’s what we’re looking towards right now.
On the freshmen this year: There’s no pressure on her [Michelle Kocher]. I think she already has enough being our starting setter here as a freshmen. She’s done such a wonderful job and our whole team sees that. That’s awesome that she was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year, following in the footsteps of Ashley [Engle] and I. We’ve never talked about it, but she obviously did her thing this year. We want that to continue into this tournament and tomorrow night.
Senior middle blocker Lauren Paolini
On the preparation for this week: We’ve just been focusing a lot on our team chemistry this week and building on what we accomplished last week. UCLA is a good team and we’ve been working on our defense a lot and building on our offense from last week.
On if they talk about the bigger picture: I definitely can say that I do dream about it, but as far as talking about it, no, we don’t within our team. You definitely don’t want to look past any opponent, and UCLA is a really good team. I think we kind of got caught up in that last year and we’re not going to let the same thing happen again.
On her last weekend playing at Gregory Gym: It’s definitely exciting to be home at this point of the season with such a big match coming up. Just to be able to play my last matches here is really exciting. I think it’s definitely a blessing to be able to play at home at this point.
On having established a long-standing tradition at UCLA: I think every year is different for me because it’s a different group of players. It’s always very exciting to put a team together. I heard one of the NFL coaches say the other day about how it’s like “Groundhog Day” every year. It gave me cause to think a little bit. But, it’s so exciting. It’s different and it really isn’t like “Groundhog’s Day.” It’s a different bunch with different challenges, and we get to try different things with different players. It’s exciting to watch them grow and mature. Yes, we want to be at this level every year, and I think it’s a tribute to my players and my coaches that we have gotten to this point.
On which Pac-10 team compares to Texas: I think Stanford has a lot of similarities to Texas. As Nellie (Spicer) mentioned, their outside hitters are big, strong attackers. Texas, like Stanford, has two pretty tall middle blockers that do a good job offensively. I think Stanford messed around with their offensive system, going back-and-forth between a 5-1 and a 6-2 for a lot during the year, and Texas has [Ashley] Engle on the right side, who is a pretty experienced setter. In the Pac-10, we’ve seen teams as big and strong as Texas is, but we’ll do our best.
On if they have been preparing differently for Texas: Oh, we’ve been cooking, because we have to come up with something new, because we haven’t beaten those teams yet. We just hope that the experience of playing against those players of that caliber will have us ready for Friday night’s match. I think that the experience that we’ve gained throughout the season will carry over into the match.
On the challenge of playing Texas on their home court: Well, it is a big challenge to come in to play Texas on their home court, but it’s one that Texas has earned because of their year. They are certainly deserving of that. We spent a lot of time in our preseason going out and playing on the road, so we really try and prepare for situations like this come the end of the year. We went over to Hawaii and played Penn State and Hawaii over there, so we do try and prepare ourselves. They try and neutralize everything a little bit in the tournament, but it’s pretty hard to do when they have Texas playing in front of their fans here. But, we’ll hang.
On the characteristics of the UCLA program: I think we have become a very strong defensive team over the past five to six years. I think that our backcourt defense has been extremely strong. We led the Pac-10 in digs this year, and we also led in blocking. I think those are the things we’ve been hanging our hat on. We’re also very proud of the fact that we have the best setter in the country. Being able to run a diverse and fast offense is something we are constantly pushing to do.
On preparing for the loud noise from the Texas fans: We’ve had a lot of fun in practice. Like Nellie (Spicer) said, we did bring in some canned noise and the coaches were also able to heckle the players, so we finally were able to say some things we’ve been wanting to say all season long. We had a lot of fun preparing this week for coming here.
Senior setter Nellie Spicer
On which Pac-10 team resembles Texas the best: I would say Stanford with two big outside hitters, a good libero and a good setter.
On how the team has been preparing this week: We came out [to Austin] yesterday, which is different than normal, because we normally come out the night before. We’ve been preparing all week in practice with loud fan noise that we got to try to prepare for all of the Texas fans.
On having to play Texas on their home court: I’ve been hearing about Texas and Texas’ fans since I was little, and I can’t wait to play here. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now. I’m excited.
Head coach Christy Johnson
On the direction and development of the program since Coach Johnson started in 2004: When we arrived, our goal was definitely to get in the tournament, get in the upper half of the Big 12. Long term – not even 10 years but really now – our vision was to compete for a Big 12 Championship, compete to get to the final four and win a National Championship. They’re certainly goals for where the program was. It seemed like a pipe dream when we first got here, but I think we’re seeing that it’s possible at Iowa State. Our program is getting there. We’ve got some work to do but all the pieces seem to be falling into place. I think we have a great situation at Iowa State, I think we’re going to continue to get better and better and I have no doubts we’re going to reach those goals. We’ve done some unbelievable things the past few years, but I still feel like there are a lot of things ahead of us.
On the keys to the program’s success in recent years: I think it’s been a lot of things. Recruiting has been a huge part of it. It’s the number one most important thing that coaches do, I feel. We’ve been able to bring in some great recruits and somehow talk them into coming, even when we weren’t so good. Kaylee Manns is a great example of that. She came on faith and belief, maybe a little naïve. But she came because she trusted that we were going to put together something special. We’ve had some key transfers – Jen Malcom was a transfer from Syracuse – who have paid off huge for us and have had an incredible impact on our program. So I think recruiting has been a big key to the building of our program. I think we have a great coaching staff. We all come from programs that won at very high levels – National Championships at club and college levels. We all expect to win and demand that of our players. So I think the culture and the expectations right when we got there changed quite a bit, and that got us going and allowed us to compete. Then as we got in better recruits, we were able to compete at a higher level.
On the team’s early struggles on the road and their big win last weekend in Minnesota: I was actually surprised that we weren’t a really good road team for half the season, and I really couldn’t put my finger on it. We just seemed to struggle a little bit when we went on the road and I don’t know if that was youth or serve-and-pass, I wasn’t quite sure what it was. But I felt as we got toward the end of the season, we’d turned into a pretty good road team. We beat Baylor on the road, which was a great win for us. Then we went and beat (Kansas State) on the road, which was the best win at that point in the season. So I think we’ve become a better road team this last half of the season. At this point, I think it doesn’t really matter where you play. Yeah, we’d all like to be at home, but a lot of it is getting those nerves out. Tournament time is just so interesting to me because you never know what is going to happen. I think the upsets are exciting and you just never know from night to night. I think the team kind of realizes that and in Minnesota, they saw some opportunities and they went out and got them. They stayed aggressive and didn’t sit back, and hope to win the match or hope that Minnesota played poorly. They went out and were the aggressor.
On embracing the underdog role: I do think there is a certain amount of freedom to being the underdog. We’re the underdog, we all know it. We were the underdog last weekend. It allows you to relax more and play with that abandon that ideally you want to play with all the time. I hope that’s how we go into tomorrow night, not that we want to harp on the underdog by any means, but that if we play great, loose and relaxed, you just never know what can happen. We want to be loose and we want to be relaxed tomorrow night, and put ourselves in the best position we possibly can to make it a great match.
Junior setter Kaylee Manns
On how the upperclassmen are leading the younger players at this stage of the season: Personally, when I’m talking to the freshmen, I always go up to them before the game and tell them, you’re a great player, you know that. I think it’s more of a confidence issue when you’re so young. Some of our girls just turned 18, you’re playing against girls that are 22 and 23 years old. The biggest thing is to establish that confidence with them. I have confidence in them, especially our freshmen hitters. They know I will get them the ball and they have to know that the rest of our team has confidence in them. So that’s personally what I try to do, just say, relax, you’re going to do great. If you go in with that positive mindset then you’re going to do great.
Senior middle blocker Jen Malcom
On Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott’s assessment of Iowa State as a “scrappy” team: We get after it on defense. I think defense is one of our strongest points. We do have good offense but when we dig balls and keep transitioning back to other people, I think it wears on them and gives us the advantage. If we can rally three or four times and finally get the kill, it wears on the other team and gets us more motivated and excited to keep pushing and having that drive.
On the keys to winning in Minnesota last weekend: I think it was just the will and want to win. We didn’t play the greatest versus (Northern Iowa) the first game and I think it was just nerves with everybody, we had a lot of pressure on the court. After that, we all settled and said, we can beat Minnesota if we really put our minds to it and work hard. I think that was the biggest thing. I think we will carry that over to this weekend, playing that hard again.
On playing for conference pride and also getting a potential third chance at Texas: We’re going game-by-game, but if we get that shot Texas, I think it’s going to be a good game again. We battled for two games with them. If it gets to that point, hopefully lucky number three will be for us. We’ll play the games and find out.
On how the upperclassmen are leading the younger players at this stage of the season: Especially when you’re dealing with the young ones, you have to build their confidence and you have to set an example for them. You have to be a good leader and do everything right for them, and show them what to do. For me, it’s just getting the team hyped up, showing them that I have a lot of fight, I have a lot of will to win. I think everyone else feeds off that throughout the game. It makes my job easier when I can get everybody pumped and they all feed off of it. You just have to go out and play every game like it’s your last one because it could be. That’s what I’m doing right now, fighting for another game and keeping it going for my senior year.
No. 11 seed OREGON